7.0/10
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97 user 42 critic

At Close Range (1986)

R | | Crime, Drama | 18 April 1986 (USA)
In 1978 Pennsylvania, an absentee father is reacquainted with his estranged teenage sons who become intrigued with his romanticized life of crime.

Director:

James Foley

Writers:

Elliott Lewitt (story), Nicholas Kazan (story) | 1 more credit »

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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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The true story of a disillusioned military contractor employee and his drug pusher childhood friend who became walk-in spies for the Soviet Union.

Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Pat Hingle
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Sean Penn ... Brad Jr.
Christopher Walken ... Brad Sr.
Mary Stuart Masterson ... Terry
Chris Penn ... Tommy (as Christopher Penn)
Millie Perkins ... Julie
Eileen Ryan ... Grandma
Tracey Walter ... Patch
R.D. Call ... Dickie
David Strathairn ... Tony Pine
J.C. Quinn ... Boyd
Candy Clark ... Mary Sue
Jake Dengel Jake Dengel ... Lester
Kiefer Sutherland ... Tim
Stephen Geoffreys ... Aggie
Crispin Glover ... Lucas
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Storyline

Based upon the true story of Bruce Johnston Sr., his son, and his brothers; together, they constituted one of suburban Philadelphia's most notorious crime families during the 1970s. Their criminal activities ranged from burglary, theft... and ultimately, murder. Written by LizFL

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

He's found a father to idolize, and a girl to love. Now all he still needs to find is himself. See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

18 April 1986 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Auf kurze Distanz See more »

Filming Locations:

Franklin, Tennessee, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$6,500,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$180,286, 20 April 1986, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$2,347,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Cinema '85, Hemdale See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

One of Sean Penn's passion projects in the 80s. See more »

Goofs

The story takes place in Pennsylvania, but in the night time scene in the town square, a bright First Tennessee Bank shines. See more »

Quotes

Brad Whitewood Sr.: Ever been out west, Tommy?
Tommy Whitewood: No.
Brad Whitewood Sr.: Ever heard a coyote?
Tommy Whitewood: No.
Brad Whitewood Sr.: They make this sound like "woo, woo, woo!" Coyote bitch gets in heat. First thing she does, she take care of the males. Then she heads toward town. All the neighborhood dogs, they smell her. They go crazy. They follow her. She lures them out on to the desert. Coyote get dog out there... alone. All the other coyote come along, they circle 'round... they kill that dog, eat it. Tommy, if you go in front of that grand jury, what will you say?
Tommy Whitewood: ...
[...]
See more »

Alternate Versions

The UK cinema version was cut by 1 min 1 sec by the BBFC to remove scenes of a cockfight. The 1986 Rank video version was pre-edited by the distributors to remove most of the scene beforehand and subsequently the cuts were reduced to 14 secs. However MGM submitted the original cinema print for the 2003 DVD release and thus 49 secs were cut from the same scene. See more »


Soundtracks

Technique
Written by Bill LaBounty and Craig Bickhardt (as Craig Brickhardt)
Performed by Bill LaBounty
See more »

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User Reviews

Gritty, dark, exceptionally vivid drama
26 December 2000 | by cchaseSee all my reviews

Sean Penn, who has now effectively established himself behind the camera as a fine director as well, once expressed that he didn't care that much for acting. When one reflects on the more brilliant achievements he's made in his career, and can contemplate how physically and emotionally exhausting his best and most difficult roles have been, it's not a statement that comes across as being that unusual. And nowhere can the toll a role can take on an actor be felt more keenly, than in AT CLOSE RANGE, with his portrayal of ne'er-do-well, small town knockabout Brad Whitewood, Jr.

The chilling poignancy of the film and the events it portrays are even more stunning (and depressing) when it is revealed that everything is based on true events.

The direction, photography, editing, scoring and most of all the acting work wonders to convey the ennervating malaise of small-town life in middle America, and how it can affect and motivate people to act or react in ways that propel them into situations that people in more metropolitan areas may smugly observe that they would never find themselves in.

Brad Whitewood Jr. (Penn) and his little brother, Tommy (Chris Penn in an amazing early performance) don't have that luxury. Caught in the inescapable pull of the dying farming community in which they live, like lost stars drifting near the event horizon of a black hole, they have nothing better to do than cruise the main square, get drunk, get high and get into trouble.

The one bright spot in their ocean of darkness is their frequently absentee dad, Brad Whitewood, Sr. (Christopher Walken at his best and most frightening). Suave, cocksure and charismatic, Brad Sr. represents a world of fascinating danger and adventure that has his boys enthralled. Brad Sr. runs a black market ring that deals in stolen equipment parts, amongst various other unlawful and unsavory activities, and as it is revealed early on, when it comes to protecting his bottom line, Brad Sr.'s vicious wrath recognizes no allegiance to loyalty or kin.

To prove themselves worthy of their dad's attentions, Brad, Tommy and their friends (which include future stars John Laughlin, Kiefer Sutherland and Stephen "Fright Night" Geoffreys), decide to start their own gang, with disastrous results. The federal authorities, who have been after Brad Sr. for a long time, decide to use the boys as leverage to nab him, and subpoena them as State witnesses against him. But even they underestimate his capacity for evil, as he demonstrates in one of the film's most graphically shocking setpieces.

Only an actor worth his mettle can hold a scene with Christopher Walken, let alone take it away from him, and Penn proves to be more than worthy of the challenge. You will find both actors doing some of their best, most gut-wrenching work here. A fun time at the movies this is not, but in terms of acting ability, the efforts on display here are damn near flawless, and should have been recognized at Oscar time.

Also commendable are subtle turns by Millie Perkins as the boys' mom, who is adamantly against the idea of having her hooligan estranged husband influencing her boys, yet isn't beneath accepting his guilt money every now and then, and Mary Stuart Masterson, who shines like a beacon as Brad Jr.'s inspiration to dream of a better life, even with a menacing threat to her own from his father, whom she defies, with tragic results.

James Foley's tight direction, the atmospheric and almost surreal lighting and shadows captured masterfully by DP Juan Ruiz Anchia, Nicholas Kazan's sure-handed screenplay, Patrick Leonard's haunting score (the basis for Madonna's hit "Live To Tell"), and as mentioned before, the superb acting, make for an experience that you may not enjoy, but it will most certainly stay with you for a very long time...


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